Friday, November 29, 2013

All of Me

Elder George E Patterson, Missionary in Texas 1938

There are some really bright people in the Church.  My dad is one to whom I look as one of those.  Today is the 96th anniversary of his birth.  I just read a talk given at BYU by John, Welch, the editor of BYU Studies, among many other impressive credentials.  He poses the question:  How can (do) we love God with all our minds?  I won’t summarize what he said, but you can read it here.

Elder Maxwell often commented on the need to give our whole selves to the Lord.  Sometimes it seems hard to do that, for I wonder if God will take as good care of me as I will.  I see evidence all around me of situations where I think I could do a better job of things.  But my vision is limited and my experience is very limited.  As Paul said, we see through a glass darkly, even with modern revelation and living prophets.  At some point it becomes necessary to walk by faith, not by sight.  That is true for every one of us, no matter how bright or dull our comprehensive skills might be.  So the hard part is to let it go and trust God, even when it might seem dangerous or potentially uncomfortable to do so.  

I am reading the Book of Mormon again.  In doing so I am rediscovering the beauty and power of the book.  President Romney taught the power of the Book of Mormon in many of his talks, but the one I remember best is the one he gave at the sesquicentennial conference in April 1980.  Others, including President Benson, have quoted that talk on many occasions as inspired counsel to read from the Book of Mormon every day.  It has taken me a long time to really learn that message.  That is a sad confession, but in another sense, it is a day of rejoicing.  I often think of the Book of Mormon.  Every day I have lessons pop up in my mind of things I learn from the stories and discourses in the Book of Mormon.  I have participated in classes at the LDS Institute at the University of Washington and at the College of Southern Idaho, almost non-stop since 1973.  Even during the years when we were in the military in Louisiana or Alaska I was involved in teaching Sunday school lessons or priesthood lessons, or even teaching home study seminary lessons that involved the Book of Mormon.  I have been greatly benefitted by participation in those activities as my testimony and knowledge have grown.  But I have not been 100% committed to reading from the Book of Mormon every day.

When our kids were young we tried to have scripture reading in the morning.  At some point I decided it would be better to back off a little than be guilty of injuring one of my kids.  So we became inconsistent in our practice.  We held family prayer every morning and every evening, but daily scripture reading was sporadic.  One of our more productive efforts was to read the headings of each chapter, just to get a view of the story line.  

I have thought many times about why we were only partially successful in our commitment and achievement of daily scripture reading.  I have also been hard on my family and harder on myself because we were not perfect in these attempts.  It is finally dawning on me that what we are after is a final product, and the method or the path to that product is good or not good depending on the success of attaining the product.  This pragmatic approach is valid.  As I look at how we determine if we achieve our goal of returning to God, the success or failure of the effort is simply defined by the final product.  That is the beauty of the doctrine of repentance, and it is the greatest product of the Atonement.  

Jesus came to open the door and invite us to come through it.  As missionaries our purpose is “to invite others...” in the same sense that Jesus invites us.  He set the example and defined the path that leads to the desired product.  There are no counterfeit products that will supplant the real one.  There is no fake salvation, although that is precisely what Satan wants us to think.  There is the real, true product, or there is nothing.  Defining the measure of success in those terms is a little stark and unyielding, but it is real.  Is the reality of the Path and the  Rod of Iron actually so unyielding or unbending?  Yes, for there is truly no other name or way but through Jesus Christ.

So the only thing left to be determined is whether I am the kind or type of person who can enter and dwell in the presence of God.  That presents an interesting challenge, too.  Elder Oaks spoke on Becoming in October 2000.  The take-away for me from that inspired presentation defines the purpose of this life a little differently than what I grew up with.  The sectarian Christians out there often accuse the Mormons of trying to earn our way into heaven through an accumulation of good deeds, which they see as contrary to Paul’s declaration that we are saved by grace.  Nephi also said we are saved by grace, following or in spite of all we can do, but some of our friends do not want to read the Book of Mormon to find the exciting and mind-expanding treasures that are there.  

This life, then, has two purposes relating to this discussion.  First we are here to demonstrate who and what we really are.  We do that by being obedient or rebellious.  We do that by our actions.  We are judged by what we do more than what we say, although our words and thoughts have tremendous effect on what we do.  But the doing is not what it is about, except that what we do demonstrates what and who we really are.

Which brings us to the second purpose, namely to become what we need to become if we are to achieve our goal of eternal or endless, or Eternal or Godly, joy.  It is still about what we really are, but we can change what we really are into something above that level by doing the things that will bring us to that level, and in the process, will change our very nature.  That is the beauty and strength of the Atonement.  In the end, this second purpose is what it is all about.  

We need to be here in mortality long enough to become what God wants us to become, not to just be what we are.  Thus I get tremendous hope from a comment made by Elder Oaks in another conference talk on Resurrection, in April 2000.  He said, “In our eternal journey, the resurrection is the mighty milepost that signifies the end of mortality and the beginning of immortality.”  I interpret this to mean that mortality ends with the resurrection.  Mortality is a term that refers to our probationary state, the time when we will have opportunity to make the changes and corrections through obedience and repentance that need to be made, in order to become what God really wants and hopes for us to become.  It is a state of being, a state of existence, a real condition.  When we have had enough opportunity to demonstrate our true nature, the real person inside, who we really are, then we will be judged and go off to the place prepared for such persons.  God in his mercy and grace will delay that day of judgement until we have had ample opportunity to become and to demonstrate that level of being.

In the the pre-Earth life where we were engaged in a conflict with Satan and those who chose to follow him, we made a preliminary declaration of who we would follow and who we wanted to be like.  That we have mortal bodies of flesh and bone, and blood, indicates that we chose to follow Jesus. Led by Michael and numerous other valiant sons and daughters of God, we demonstrated varying levels of commitment, and that we accepted the plan presented by The Father, championed and to be enacted by The Son.  What was the minimal level of commitment  that put us in one camp or the other?  Are all those who chose to follow Lucifer on the same level of rebellion?  What was the minimal standard of choice and action that denied them a chance to later change their minds?  On the other hand, what was the minimal commitment we made in order to be among the ones who avoided being cast out with Satan.  Those spirit children of God had to do something, or avoid doing something, that defined their future opportunities.  To me it is still a matter of demonstrating the real nature and character of the person within.  Those who rejected Satan would be blessed with a body.  But the real question was still to be answered by how we kept our second estate, or our second test.

I am trying to be like Jesus.  I am trying to become like him.  I love him and want to be with him, with the mortals I have come to know and love who are part of my close circle of friends and family.  I am thankful for the opportunity to remain here long enough to change my character and demonstrate that the change is total and everlasting.  I am motivated every day by many things, but the one that probably teaches me the most is what little Lois Cook said.  Lois was born with a heart defect that for whatever reason was not repaired, so she was always a little blue and was sickly and weak.  She had a powerful spirit, though, and was remarkable in her wisdom.  One day she was struggling to breathe and her mother, a dear family friend whom we affectionately referred to as “Aunt Lucille”, one of those saintly people who will be in the Celestial Kingdom and with whom I want to be forever, said to her, “Lois, my little darling, I wish there was something I could do to ease your pain and make it better for you.”

Lois was only about 5 at the time, and she died just a couple of years later.  Lois smiled at Aunt Lucille and said, “Mother, if Heavenly Father wants me to be this way, I’ll just be this way.”  Aunt Lucille told me that story, and there were tears in her eyes as she did.  There are tears in my eyes every time I think about it, too.  That is what I want to be like.  I want to be that faithful and patient and loving.  I want to be that obedient.  I want to be in that state of being.  God help us all to become like that.

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